Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where are the SERIOUS books?

When Twitter alerted me to this--well, naive might be understating things--report on last month's Book Expo, all I could think of was Fran Leibowitz's observation (I paraphrase) that "the girl in high school who insists that the drama club put on The Bald Soprano will be a thorn in the side of everyone she meets forever."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alex Forrest, at your service

In anticipation of the Big Banquet a week from Sunday, I'm giving you an early look at Mind the Gap, our annual list of those books snubbed by the ALA Awards. Okay, snubbed is harsh--overlooked? Dismissed? Ignored? (For the literalists: we know that not all of our choices were eligible, but we're still coming to boil your bunny.)

Mind the Gap will appear in our July/August issue devoted to the ALA awards (because, despite our most strident cavils, those awards do more than anything to keep children's books good and honest). The whole issue is a treat (it's also the biggest we've published since I've been here), with essays on the year's contenders by Deborah Stevenson and Vicky Smith; K.T. Horning on Newbery secrets; Megan Lambert and Leonard Marcus on the Caldecott Honor honorees; editor Patti Gauch on how to write a Newbery winner; and Robin Smith on the rewards of award committeeship. PLUS the acceptance speeches and profiles of the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder and Coretta Scott King awards.

And oh-wait-there's-more: I asked a couple of dozen colleagues to name their choices for the books most significantly overlooked by the awards through the years. I told them not to pick Tuck Everlasting as I was afraid they all would; even so, one book received four nominations. You can read all about it when the issue is published: Monday morning, June 27th, at ALA in New Orleans. Come by the booth and get a copy!


Here is a handy page with all our ALA booth info including the Live Five schedule and how to get your copy of the gawjus Awards issue, published the day after the Big Banquet. Plus, there's going to be a drawing to get a spa day. In fifteen years in this job I have never had occasion to type that term before.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Come to the movies

On June 25th at 8:00PM at the ALA conference in New Orleans, ALSC is presenting a free screening of The Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about contemporary children's literature including interviews with many authors and illustrators. I think my favorite segment is the coverage of an attempt to ban Annie on My Mind, although the shots of Jack Gantos on an automated walkway at Logan Airport give the whole thing a nicely nouvelle vague frisson.

Sponsored by Media Source (just like this blog) and the children's book groups of Little, Brown and Macmillan, the movie will be followed by a brief q and a with the director, Edward Delaney, and three of the stars: Grace Lin, Jack Gantos, and Daniel Handler (I'll be moderating). Then there are free snacks and a cash bar. Please come! At the convention center, Auditorium C, 8:00 P.M.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

The 2011 BGHB winners are:

Winner: Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

Honor: Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)
Honor: Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke (Kane Miller)

Winner: The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)

Honor: Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick)
Honor: Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White (Candlewick)

Picture Book
Winner: Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor (Houghton)

Honor: Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by
Rick Allen (Houghton)
Honor Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

[Go here for the complete press release.] Judged by Jennifer Brabander (chair), Robin Brenner, and Dean Schneider, the BGHB Awards will be awarded on Friday evening, September 30th, 2011 at a ceremony at Simmons College. The following day, we will again present The Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, led by me and Cathie Mercier, Associate Dean and Director of the Simmons Center for the Study of Children's Literature, and featuring this year's winners with presentations, conversations, and workshops. You can sign up now.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


What probably bugged me the most about the WSJ YA piece was its blithe anecdotalism: the author found four YA books that (she thought) proved her point but ignored not just everything that had been published since The Chocolate War but the many, many books being published for teens today to the point of looking like an ignoramus even to those who would like to agree with her. As I said yesterday, to wring your hands about contemporary problem novels and not even mention Ellen Hopkins (who has an audience far larger than that for the four books Gurdon mentions combined) or, as I think of it today, Laurie Halse Anderson, makes it easier to dismiss you as a Sarah Palin-like no-nothing crank, chirping merrily on about Paul Revere ringing those nonexistent bells in defense of the as-yet unthought-of Second Amendment to a still-unwritten Constitution. It's as if I took my favorite bad picture book, The Gift, about a personified pumpkin who agrees to be made into pie so that people might eat, and said "See? This is what's wrong with picture books today! No wonder people aren't buying them."

I'm reminded of the time when, after many years of not watching TV, I randomly caught an episode of Married . . .with Children and saw a visual blowjob joke involving an eclair. What??? This was not on Bewitched! When I started editorializing madly to my friends who a) had watched TV regularly over time and b) were completely up on the controversy Al Bundy et al regularly courted, I quickly learned that the problem was not so much the show but that I had not been paying attention.

But I have been paying attention to YA publishing for thirty years (here's my take on the last Bleakness Outrage) and can confidently tell Megan Cox Gurdon that you can find an example of just about anything in its purview, and that the books she cites are far from typical of the genre as a whole, which in the main has been given over to high-concept, hook-heavy beach books whose most alarming characteristic is their resemblance to one another and sheer replaceability. Do you think the Wall Street Journal would like an op-ed about what's wrong with that?

Meet you at the Tick Tock Tea Room

Francesca Lia Block is speaking at the Cambridge Public Library on Saturday. I wonder if she'll have anything to say about the latest YA drama. Liz Burns, by the way, has a good roundup of the WSJ coverage over at the Tea Cozy.

Monday, June 06, 2011


I have a few thoughts regarding the Wall Street Journal article about YA that has everyone, uh, a-Twitter.

1. Why does the author have to reach back FORTY YEARS to talk about "dark YA" when our last big go-round on the topic was just fifteen years ago? The generation of Sarah T., Go Ask Alice, and Je Suis le Fromage is not the parents of today, it's the grandparents. If I'm recalling right, the WSJ made this same argument back in 1997, when such books as When She Was Good, The Facts Speak for Themselves, and pretty much anything by Chris Lynch were the New Thing in YA and equally decried by worried adults. This article is missing a lot of history, as well as any sense of the breadth of YA today, citing Lauren Myracle for an atypical book, ignoring Ellen Hopkins (queen of the kind of book Gurdon is appalled by), and recommending A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a "Book for Young Women" while not seeming aware of, say, the best-selling Sarah Dessen, whose books exemplify all that the article wants to find good.

2. Gurdon's argument about why gritty YA books are published is classic straw-man stuff:

The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

Who actually believes this is how reading works?  It was Sheila Egoff who pointed out that the audience for Go Ask Alice was not drug-crazed runaways but nice little middle-class junior high girls with a taste for melodrama. People like reading about people like themselves whose problems are more interesting than their own. Unfortunately, the Twitterati are buying into Gurdon's thinking from the other way around, claiming that "YA saves," and that YA writers are brave and heroic and helpful, none of which qualities being particularly useful for a writer. Give me an author who is truthful and talented; spare me an author who writes to save lives.

3. If you're a teen who is running your reading choices by your parents, grow up. If you're a parent who feels compelled to approve your child's reading, shut up. The books and the kids are all right.

Friday, June 03, 2011

July-August starred reviews

You can see what we're going to star in next month's jumbo-sized Horn Book Magazine over at Out of the Box.

My New York Social Diary

I've spent the week in New York, talking with the sisters and brothers at LJ and SLJ. Brian tried to pry the BGHB winners (which will be announced in just over a week) out of me, but like Colonel Klink, I really do know nothing(k). So while we did get a little planning done re the awards evening and the following Horn Book at Simmons day (sign up now!) we are still a little short on specifics. I also commandeered a little cubicle there, with just a partition separating me from old pal Barbara Genco, who I met years ago at the Columbia library school (back when it had a library school) summer children's literature institute. Of course I had a good gossip with Trev Jones, mostly about the various categories of publishers' complaints ("Why didn't you review it?" "Why didn't you STAR it?")

And breakfast with Barbara Marcus, late of Scholastic and currently a Media Source board member and consultant for the Open Road ebook venture; she gave me advice about wedding rings, for which R and I are currently in the market. I've never worn a ring but Barbara says they don't interfere with writing, which is what I was afraid of. A special treat was lunch with Lillian Gerhardt, editor emerita of SLJ, who gave me my start in this opining biz when she hired me in 1983 as a YA columnist. She had a few juicy items re ALSC and ALA that I am now going to check out.

Two plays with Richard: The Normal Heart, which I found underwhelming, and Jerusalem, which I recommend to any fan of the great Brit fantasists. Same material, very different spin (nobody but the English uses the c-word with such gusto and versatility).

Okay, back to work (and sneaking in glimpses at Roland Garros on the side. Have you seen my new wallpaper?) Allez!